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What makes a great leader? Ask innovators from the Gazette and Just for Laughs

This June 1, attend a public panel discussion on social change at the Concordia Summer Research Institute
May 17, 2016
By Josh Hawley

Cherry Smiley: “I was very fortunate to be mentored by powerful Indigenous women activists.” Cherry Smiley: “I was very fortunate to be mentored by powerful Indigenous women activists.”

On June 1 in the D.B. Clarke Theatre, four prominent Montrealers will participate in a panel discussion on what it takes to be a social leader while nurturing your passions and ideals.

Lucinda Chodan, Désirée McGraw (BA, 93), Andy Nulman and Cherry Smiley will share their unique approaches to leadership and innovation while considering the difficulties and opportunities facing future agents of change.

The public event is part of the Concordia University Summer Research Institute (CUSRI) 2016, a thorough, three-day preview of graduate studies for senior undergraduate and graduate students pursuing research.

In line with this year's theme, “Leadership for the Next Generation,” moderator and chair of the Department of Journalism, Brian Gabrial, and the four panelists will explore the importance of developing the qualities of a leader and using your voice and personal story to make a difference in society.

Intangible qualities

As editor-in-chief of the Montreal Gazette, Lucinda Chodan led the paper through a massive multimedia transformation, juggling the demands of its loyal readership while engaging a new audience.

Lucinda Chodan Lucinda Chodan

“What will emerge from this discussion is the intangible quality that is leadership,” said Chodan. “It's not a set of actions or a prescription for how to be a leader, but an attitude. It's an agile approach; positivity and an openness. The fact that the next generation of leaders are digital natives will give them a head start. They are used to being disrupted, to things changing quickly.”

Andy Nulman is responsible for transforming the Just for Laughs comedy festival into the international juggernaut that it is today. He sees the proliferation of information as a boon for innovators.

“There is cheap and easy access to a massive amount of quality information and online courses,” says Nulman. “Better [informational] input creates better leaders.”

Andy Nulman Andy Nulman

However, Désirée McGraw, who has spent much of her career facilitating face-to-face networks of activists from around the world, urges caution.

Despite the advantages that come with being technologically savvy, millennials often rely solely on communicating and organizing over the internet, says the former president of the Jeanne Sauvé Foundation and current president and CEO of Pearson College UWC.

“When I started out, I did a national, cross-country activist tour in a car. Now, a lot of the activism takes place in the virtual world. The work I do is about bringing young leaders together in an intensive environment to create those strong interpersonal connections.”

Stronger collaborative movements

The four Montreal trailblazers are always looking ahead, but Indigenous feminist activist, artist and Concordia doctoral student Cherry Smiley, points out there is also a lot to gain from learning about the past.

Désirée McGraw Désirée McGraw

“I was very fortunate to be mentored by powerful Indigenous women activists, and I find my skill set and attitude has matured over the years,” she says. “I worry for the next generation in our increasingly individualized neoliberal capitalist culture. We need to make sure that our movements stay strong and that we continue to work collectively.”

For McGraw, who earned her bachelor's degree in economics from Concordia, the interdiscplinarity of the panel provides an invaluable opportunity to learn from other sectors and represents the approach and mindset of future leaders. “We need our next generation of leaders to be tri-sector athletes, collaborating across the private, public and non-profit sectors,” she says.

Chodan is inspired by her fellow presenters: “As I look at my co-panelists, I see people who have managed to innovate, create something from nothing, and grapple with a topic that affects thousands. I'm blown away by their experience,” she says.

The public is invited to attend the panel discussion, moderated by Concordia Journalism chair, Brian Gabrial, on June 1, from 7 to 9pm in the D.B. Clarke Theatre.

Read more about the panel.


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